Friday, June 26

Michael Jackson, Inc. Lives!

Last night, as tributes to the late performer Michael Jackson covered mainstream media, I observed that the "man" was not the point of any talking heads' discussions. Michael Jackson the "brand" was. As a phenomenon, there are very few that can parallel Michael Jackson. He was arguably the most successful artist of his generation. In terms of record sales, Pepsi and other product endorsements, and ownership of song rights, he truly was the "King of Pop."

He was an industry unto himself. Rag media, legal eagles, and paparazzi were fueled by the insatiable thirst that the public has for celebrity and the cashing in thereof. And Jackson himself was quite savvy about his brand recognition, including planting stories such as sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and purchasing the Elephant Man's bones, and performing at the half-time show of the Super Bowl for 137 million captivated people at the game and at home. His artistic temperament and business acumen combined with his necessarily reclusive lifestyle created demand for all things Michael Jackson. For him, it also must have created a dissonance between Michael Jackson the personality and the person.

Whoever Michael Jackson was is gone now. Philanthropist or pedophile-- angel or devil--saint or sinner? We will never really know the rest of the story. We can be assured that his life will be picked apart by those buzzards who stand to profit from telling his tale.

Michael Jackson, Inc. is open for business and family members, former employees, and biographers will cash in on his likeness. The media will rewrite and reinvent his legacy for a public whose fickle nature embraces both scorn and redemption in equal parts. Like all icons before him, he will be reborn-- "new and improved."

As for me, I will genuinely miss the ambassador of goodwill that Michael Jackson represented to those living in poverty, hunger, and with HIV/AIDS. I will miss his showmanship and creativity. He was a person who lived like his famous moonwalk dance, giving the impression he was ahead of us and, at the same time, letting us know his time was cemented in the past.

Thursday, June 25

Kresowik: We Need ACES and Truth from Critics

From University of Iowa Student President and current Sierra Club staffer Mark Kresowik:

Friends, tomorrow a remarkable bill will be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's called the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), was drafted by Congressmen Waxman and Markey, with some excellent work by our own Congressman Braley, and would be the first time our U.S. Congress made a serious effort to deal with global warming. I wasn't going to write anything until after the vote, but the misrepresentations being spouted by MidAmerican Energy in Iowa, and then the RNCC and electric cooperatives going after Congressman Braley this week, really got to me.

I have put a lot of time into analyzing the bill and the modeling done by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office. I have tracked this bill from its draft form through committee and now tomorrow, to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

I can tell you that MidAmerican, Iowa's electric cooperatives, and the GOP are full of crap. And then Congressman Boswell bought their nonsense hook, line, and sinker. So we need to contact our Congressional officials and make sure they know we're not buying what MidAm is trying to sell, and that the ACES bill needs to go forward to the Senate.

Congressman Loebsack's number - (202) 225-6576
Thank Congressman Braley for his hard work - (202) 225-2911
Congressman Boswell's number - : (202) 225-3806

First, MidAmerican and Iowa's other utilities had the very stupid idea to build a very dirty coal plant in Council Bluffs a few years ago. Their bad management decisions shouldn't be taken out on this legislation or ratepayers. They may want to whine about it, but they should bear some of the cost of their bad decisions (sound familiar?).

Second, this bill is not going to cause the rate increases these utilities are claiming. We're already giving these utilities more than 50% of their pollution for free, and even if they had to pay for all the extra pollution beyond those allowances rates would increase less than half what MidAmerican is claiming. And why is that a bad thing? It gives them an incentive to actually reduce pollution, imagine that. With the strong energy efficiency provisions, energy use in the country will be held flat - even as the economy rebounds - through 2020. Which means those of you who take advantage of efficiency opportunities may ultimately be paying less than you would if this bill doesn't pass.

Finally, that doesn't count all of the jobs Iowa stands to get from investing in clean, renewable energy or the payments to farmers to practice better soil conservation and stewardship to reduce pollution. Iowa is a leader in a lot of those areas, and this bill recognizes and rewards that.

ACES would be a huge boon to the state of Iowa, to our economy, and to the environment. MidAmerican's crap shouldn't be left unopposed.

If you do one thing today or Friday, please call Congressmen Loebsack, Braley, and Boswell.

Congressman Loebsack's number - (202) 225-6576
Thank Congressman Braley for his hard work - (202) 225-2911
Congressman Boswell's number - : (202) 225-3806

If you want more information about what MidAm is saying and why it is so blatantly wrong, send me an email. I'm happy to run you through the economics and impacts of the bill. I'm not saying it is perfect, but it should pass on to the Senate. We need it.

Thank you very much,


P.S. I'm not writing this as a staff member of the Sierra Club. The lies being tossed around Iowa right now hit me personally. I've spent way too much time on these issues to watch MidAmerican and the electric cooperatives misrepresent the impacts of this bill on people who are already struggling to pay their electric bills. Their statements don't serve their ratepayers. This bill does an enormous amount, possibly even too much, to cushion electric utilities and ratepayers. And it will certainly be good for Iowa. Even if you don't agree with the bill, stand up for truth in advertising!

One more thing. According to the EPA's latest modeling results, released this morning, average household electricity expenditures go DOWN through 2015 by 3.5% with ACES compared to business as usual. If you needed any more evidence that MidAmerican is full of crap, there is it is.

Monday, June 22

Iran So Far Away (From Democracy)

Sitting here in Iowa, even without knowing what is the unvarnished truth concerning the outcome of the Iranian presidential election, it is still hard not to speak about the obvious horrors going on within the borders of Iran. There are some points of clarity that can be seen even half a world away:

- Brave people of conviction are marching by the thousands in Tehran, other Iranian cities, and in solidarity in other world cities to protest the outcome of an election that Iranians find faulty and are communicating to the rest of the listening world to the best of their ability.
- The "supreme" leadership, those clerics who choose the candidates, are in serious trouble if they have indeed rigged the election.
- While the elected President is not the supreme leader of the country, he is the mouthpiece that the world press looks toward in reporting the news. If one of the candidates is thrown under the bus, and it really doesn't matter whom it is, what matters is how it looks through the eyes of the media.
- Other countries, the US included, can not step in and declare a winner, but should let the Iranian people know diplomatically that we support their choice.
- More Iranians are likely to die today and that, in the long run, will perversely lead to a more democratic Iran tomorrow.

History teaches us that tyranny does not hold in the final appraisal. The Supreme Leader and his Guardian Council can not hope to survive, even if they command the armed forces, if the people it rules does not believe that they are infallable. By the mere suspicion of wrongdoing, the clerics are weakened.

Sadly, because of each sacrifice of life offered by the protestors, Iran draws closer to either full martial law or a collapse of a system that has failed its people. The question is not really one of which will prevail, but when a functional government will rule.

To those in Iran who are struggling, know that in the land of the "Western Devil", there is a person who enjoins you in your protest and wishes you As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلام عليكم).

Saturday, June 20

Universal Health Care Now!

I've been taking some time away from blogging because, let's face it, problems never really go away and everyone needs a chance to chill out. In my absence, the national health care debate rages on. Many people actually thought there was a national health care bill ready to go when President Obama was elected. Certainly his plan was shopped publicly when he was running for the office. But apparently there is not a "shovel-ready" health care bill or enough money to pay for the bill, depending on who you ask.

This is my solution. No holidays for Congress until a bill is forwarded for the President's signature that makes sure that 100% of Americans have access to affordable health care. At this point I don't care if it is a single-payer or gazillion-payer model, just that it is universal and affordable to all.

As for those Congressional leaders who line up he pieces on the chess board who need to get this done, lock down Capitol Hill and take your fellow public servants off the grid. This means no lobbyists, cell phones, or computers (except in the capable hands of the recorders who will write up the final bill). No tweeting, crackberry texting, facebooking, etc. Clearly this bunch is overly distracted and needs time to focus. If necessary, cut off the air conditioning (think of it as reliving the Continental Congress).

The point is that health care is the one thing that is needed by every worker and the thing that American industry claims keeps it from being competitive globally. If we really want to rev up the economic recovery machine, make sure everyone has the opportunity to be healthy--even corporate personages.

Trial lawyers, unions, big biz, doctors, and insurers beware, you can not dictate the discourse on this issue any more. You had your chance. If you are found within 100 miles of the halls of Congress, you should expect to be deported to Palau (we should at least get our money's worth out of that deal). We know you have been assailing us with your ideas of what is best for us, but really, it is always about what is best for you.

We the people are sick of being sick because the pursuit of profits are involved. We want health care as a fundamental right--after all what is the pursuit of happiness if you can't get out of bed to pursue it?

So listen up Congress--drop everything else you are doing and get this legislation done. If it isn't perfect coming out of the gate, don't worry about it--we'll make you keep working on it until it is or elect people who can. Congressmen Braley, Loebsack, Boswell, Latham, and King and Senators Grassley and Harkin, this means you.

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Wednesday, June 10

How Much Does It Cost To Ease a Nation's Conscience?

Apparently $11,764,705.88 per prisoner is the going rate for not allowing trials for Guantanamo prisoners to occur. Since the US Senate said "no" to housing detainees in the United States, the US plans to banish 17 Chinese Muslim captives from the Guantanamo Bay prison to the remote North Pacific archipelago of Palau (Palau comprises of a number of scattered islands over 500 miles east of the Philippines with a population less than 20,000 people).

The US decided to transfer the Uighur detainees to the small pacific island nation after inking an accord with the president of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, on Tuesday in exchange for a $200 million long-term aid package.

Toribiong said he “agreed to accommodate the United States of America's request” to “temporarily resettle” the Guantanamo prisoners and called his country's bid a “humanitarian gesture,” adding that he was “honored and proud” to close the deal.

Sandra Pierantozzi, Palau's minister of state, in an interview with VOA, says her nation is glad to have the Uighurs.

"If they want to settle in Palau we would welcome them," Pierantozzi said. "This is very much in line with the culture of Palau, where people who drift in and who needs settlement and place are welcome to our shores and our tradition will take care of them and insert them into our society."

The Uighurs are from China's western Xinjiang province. Beijing has accused the Uighurs, who dominate the province, as separatists who want to create an independent "East Turkestan." Washington is refusing to send the Uighurs back to China, fearing they would be persecuted.


Glad That We Aren't New York

What do you get when you take one criminally-indicted Democrat, one under ethics investigation and 30 power-hungry Republican state senators? A majority. This makes Texas politics look sane.

HUD Funds Flood Iowa

From Rebuild Iowa Office RIO:

Governor Chet Culver, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Congressman Dave Loebsack (IA-2) yesterday announced that Iowa will receive $516.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for disaster recovery. This brings Iowa’s funding from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to nearly $800 million to date. The funding will be administered by the state under an agreement to follow modified rules of the CDBG program, a flexible program that provides communities with resources to address a wide range of unique community development needs such as home buyouts, public infrastructure projects, and assistance to businesses, economic revitalization and flood mitigation.

“Iowa has come so far in the past year – rebuilding piece by piece and block by block with every dollar of assistance that has come into our state. But there are still significant areas that still show signs of devastation and have a very damaged local economy,” said Senator Harkin. “You need only walk through downtown Cedar Rapids to see empty window fronts and padlocked doors that once represented a thriving economy. Iowa suffered one of the five largest natural disasters on record of any state, and we are far from full recovery. These funds will help in that effort.”

“Nearly one year after the floods of last summer devastated Iowa, we are still rebuilding. These funds will aid Iowa’s long term recovery and rebuilding efforts,” said Congressman Loebsack. “As our families struggle to move forward, it is essential that we distribute these funds to communities based on unmet and long term recovery needs. One of the communities that will benefit significantly from these funds is Linn County, whose citizens are still coping with severe damage to their homes, businesses, and infrastructure. Just days after the flood waters hit Iowa, the Iowa Delegation was fighting for Iowans. As we continue in our recovery efforts, I will continue to make sure that the voices of Eastern Iowa are heard in Washington.”

“We continue to make great progress with our recovery efforts in Iowa thanks to strong partnerships, not only between federal, state and local governments, but with thousands of Iowans who have hope and confidence in the communities they call home. This commitment by President Obama and Secretary Donovan means that, as of today, more than $3 billion in federal and state funds have been committed to rebuilding our great state after the historic floods and storms of 2008,” said Governor Culver. “This $517 million in additional CDBG funds will give Cedar Rapids and communities throughout the state more resources to rebuild from past disasters and help prevent future disasters. In the end, these funds allow us to keep rebuilding Iowa, even better and stronger than before.”

There is $6.1 billion for CDBG from the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act that passed on September 30, 2008. Today’s funding announcement allocates that funding. One third of it had been preliminarily allocated under a provision Senator Harkin wrote that required that a portion of the money would come to the states more quickly, to have the funds allocated within 60 days. But, the entire amount uses the formula that is being announced today.

Harkin, Loebsack and Culver have worked with Secretary Donovan as well as a number of members of the White House staff to have a formula that fairly allocated the funds among the states that suffered from 2008 disasters. A key part of that discussion was the need to properly consider the need to consider economic revitalization which is far more necessary in larger disasters, particularly those involving large cities.

The total federal assistance allocated to Iowa now is over $3 billion, approximately half of which has been administered through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)

Repurpose Roosevelt for Learning Center for K to 5

Given that the Iowa City Consolidated School District board of directors have elected to close Roosevelt school, here is a suggestion. Reopen it as an alternative learning center for those kids who are behind the learning curve. Educational research shows that kids who are behind by the third grade seldom catch up. If the children in the primary grades in the ICCSD who are falling behind had an alternative learning center where they could be taught in more intimate surroundings with state-of-the-art methods, perhaps they could succeed in the long run. In fact this would be a great opportunity for the Grant Wood AEA to step forward and showcase their expertise or for a separate charter school to be established.

Think it over, there is no hurry now that a new school will be built, another enlarged, and the same students will still need the help.

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Tuesday, June 9

School Board to Vote on Roosevelt's Future Tonight

Despite the amount of time and effort that supporters for keeping Roosevelt School open have put into presenting a counter-argument, the alternative options that have been presented appear much more complicated than cracking open a fresh piece of ground and building a new, state-of-the-art school. From the school board's viewpoint, the benefits are numerous and include:
- less disruption to students at multiple schools;
- they are living up to the board's policy to create educational equity;
- putting new schools where growth is occurring and likely to occur;
- replacing infrastructure that does not meet their model of adequate teaching
- and the promise to repurpose Roosevelt in the future addresses the neighborhood's
chief concerns, despite the unknown, but relatively small costs of maintaining the
school shell.

Said differently, this is the path of least resistance. For a board that is incremental in nature, this would be deemed a victory; that is, making the least amount of people unhappy.

From the Roosevelt supporters point-of-view, the loss could be devastating for a corner of the community anchored by a living school. In discussing what will happen to Roosevelt, supporters are wise to be wary of any "promises" made in the heat of achieving the school board's intended goals. The school board can always declare a mea culpa because of budget concerns and all good faith agreements disappear.

Have the arguments for keeping Roosevelt open really been heard? Listening to the board members as they justify their decision tonight will be the best way of knowing the answer to this. With a school board election around the corner, it wouldn't be surprising for a member or two of the board to vote against the plan. So even the perception that Roosevelt supporters have received a fair hearing will likely be questioned.

In the final assessment, looming in the distance is a really important discussion that has not taken place. How to redistrict the district so that all schools remain relevant rather than closing old ones down to make room for sprawling new schools. The school district is not in a position to build new school after new school without making class sizes increase dramatically. Getting the most mileage out of existing schools has got to be predicated on the boundary lines of the schools flexing over time. For parents to be okay with this, each school will need to perform at similar levels and that is more difficult to govern.

The longer term solution to policy issues will need to come from reforming the board. If board members were elected in a district format like the city council, there would likely be more vigorous debate among board members about budget decisions and the growth within the district. With only two weeks before the deadline to put this on the ballot, it may not happen this election, but, if the fire is still lit by those disenchanted with the board's process, it could happen in the next election cycle.

MoveOn This If You Want Wind and Solar Power

MoveOn asked that bloggers like myself post this request:

It's 2009. Democrats have ample majorities in both houses of Congress. President Obama campaigned on the promise to tackle climate change and boost our economy by investing in clean energy.

So why on earth is Congress considering an energy bill that:

- Would weaken current law, repealing President Obama's authority to crack down on dirty power plants, and
- Doesn't actually require the creation of new solar or wind power? (The Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded that the clean energy standards won't make power companies produce more clean energy than is already in the works.)

Why? Because Big Oil and Coal have teamed up with conservatives in both parties, and they've been successful in weakening the bill.

These are major flaws, but the bill has a lot of really good provisions, too. The key thing is that Congress can still strengthen it—if there's a public outcry. But we don't have much time: Congress is expected to vote on this bill in less than three weeks.

Can you sign this petition to Representative Dave Loebsack today? Eighty thousand MoveOn members have already signed. We need to double the number of signatures by Wednesday—that means we need 41 more signatures in Iowa City. MoveOn members will personally deliver this petition to many congressional offices the next day. Click here to add your name:

The petition says: "We need a stronger energy bill to fulfill Obama's vision of a clean energy economy. Congress should strengthen the clean energy standards and restore Obama's authority to crack down on dirty coal plants."

Congress must change the energy bill to require power companies to produce more clean energy for America. Wind and solar create more than twice as many jobs as coal and oil.3 And Congress needs to hold polluters accountable by restoring President Obama's current authority through the EPA to crack down on global warming pollution from power plants.

The Union of Concerned Scientists analysis finds that the current version of the clean energy standard "won't require utilities to use any more renewable electricity than...would be generated as a result of state renewable electricity standards already in place and the recently enacted stimulus package."4

If we just sit back, we'll miss our chance to go big with wind and solar—and we'll lose the jobs those industries would create. Big Oil and Coal will keep getting billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. And President Obama will be powerless to stop more than 100 new dirty coal plants, which will crowd out the clean energy growth we need to boost our economy.5

There are some good parts of the bill, but these are significant problems. As the Sierra Club's Carl Pope writes, the bill establishes strong long-term goals for cutting carbon pollution and very strong energy-efficiency investments, "but in its present form, it won't do all that's needed. The oil, coal, and dirty-utility interests...were able to prevent enactment of President Obama's much bolder vision...Yes, they will try to kill the green-jobs recovery in its cradle, and yes, they will try to block our clean-energy future."6

Please urge Rep. Loebsack to fight for a stronger energy bill. Clicking here will add your name to the petition:

Thanks for all you do.

–Anna, Michael, Joan, Noah and the rest of the team

1. "Bill Needs Strengthening to Guarantee Necessary Carbon Reductions, New Green Jobs and Consumer Benefits, Science Group Says," Union of Concerned Scientists, May 14, 2009

2. "EPA urged to act on climate, not wait for Congress," Associated Press, May 18, 2009

"American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009," Library of Congress, May 15, 2009

3. "Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy," Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, September 2008

4. "Bill Needs Strengthening to Guarantee Necessary Carbon Reductions, New Green Jobs and Consumer Benefits, Science Group Says," Union of Concerned Scientists, May 14, 2009

5. "Stopping the Coal Rush," Sierra Club

6. "So How Good Is This Climate Bill, Anyhow?" Sierra Club, May 22, 2009

Thursday, June 4

Art For Artist's Sake

The upcoming Iowa Arts Festival in Iowa City reminds me that during the Great Depression, artists were brought together to produce some of the greatest art of this or any century through the Works Projects Administration (WPA). Grant Woods' murals in the Iowa State University Parks Library stands magnificently, as do Edgar Britton's in Waterloo's public library. As I learn more of schools and universities cutting back on arts programs or facilities, I question if people really understand the value of the arts to a society?

In Iowa, legislation that was passed in the last session allocated the Department of Cultural Affairs a total budget that is a 9.46% decrease from the FY09 budget.

Iowa Arts Council Budget: The FY10 appropriation reduces by 9.79% the FY09 budget as appropriated last July 1. This appropriation provides the primary funding for Iowa Arts Councils grant programs, workshops and conferences, rosters, administrative costs, and technical assistance for the arts in Iowa.

Cultural Grants Program: The FY10 Cultural Grants appropriation was cut by 6.7% from the FY09 appropriation. This appropriation supports a portion of both the Iowa Community Cultural Grant program and the Cultural Leadership Partners program.

Gaming Funds: The gaming funds allocated to DCA for operating support to cultural organizations were cut by 12.9% for FY10. These gaming funds support our Cultural Leadership Partners, the Iowa Community Cultural Grants, and Small Operating Support grants.

Cultural Trust: The annual allocated deposit to the Iowa Cultural Trust took a slight cut, with a reduction from $1 million to $900,000 for FY10. The Cultural Trust board will meet in May to determine how to move ahead with grant-making from the Trust.

As for my fair city, whether the city's public art program would be eliminated at a savings of $18,208 also on the block. Council members said they would like to maintain some kind of city support for public art, but perhaps not in its current form.

It is true that the arts are not food for the hungry or homes for the homeless, but neither are they tax cuts for the wealthy. The arts do feed the soul and give a home to those creative souls that are made to write, sing, dance, paint, sculpt, act, and on and on. We would live on a subdued pallet of color were there not artists.

As it stands, there are many more "artistic" people than their are artistic jobs. The arts professiona are one of few that truly rely on a patronage system--unfortunately sometimes that system is more patronizing than supporting. When given the choice between a future Rembrandt or captain of industry, can't we make room for both?